Internet Self Improvement

The Listserve – How It Could Be A Force For Good

Dave Parrack 17-05-2012

What would you say to 1 million people? That is the intriguing question behind The Listserve, which can be accurately described as a giant listserv, a social game, a lottery of words, and a cross between PostSecret and Chatroulette.


Whichever way you want to describe it, The Listserve is a simple concept that offers an intriguing glimpse into strangers’ lives. All through the decades-old power of email. This isn’t just an opportunity to pass your thoughts on to others, it’s an opportunity to motivate, educate, inspire, or even confess to people who have purposely signed up to listen. To me, to you, to anyone and everyone.

The Listserve

listserv mailing list

The Listserve is a new social experiment from five New York University grad students. The idea is to explore the relationship between technology and communications and how the former is influencing the latter. In practical terms this means an email list comprising of up to 1 million people, though at the time of writing the number of participants stands at 18180.

Every person on The Listserve receives one email a day, an email that will contain the thoughts of one of the participants. That person is chosen at random to pass on whatever they want to the potentially huge audience. The person chosen has 48 hours to compose the email they want to be sent out to the list, with an option to claim it or remain anonymous. The only two things banned are spam and pornography.

I joined the list in advance of the first email being sent out after the number of members passed 10000. Based on the emails received so far I think The Listserve could be a force for good in this increasingly unfriendly, disconnected world. Lest we forget the power of words to change people for the better.



how listserv works

We all have different experiences in life with both ups and downs punctuating our short time on Earth 7 Hidden Gems from Google That Can Still Surprise You Add a little fun and education to everyday tasks with the help of seven brilliant tools from Google. Read More . These fluctuations can provide us with pearls of wisdom, reminders of how lucky we are even to be alive, and messages we feel the need to share with others. The Listserve is the perfect opportunity to motivate others with a few carefully crafted words.

Examples From The First Three Weeks:

Many people never think about setting up their own business, usually because they see it as too difficult or too risky. One email already sent through to The Listserve by Joshua contains five tips to starting a new business, which, if they get even one person considering it, will have been worthwhile. While Emil passes on some tips for making even dreary days stand out.



how listserv works

We all learn throughout our lives; interesting facts, ways of doing things differently, shortcuts to an easier existence. Whatever we learn we should teach others. The Listserve is the perfect opportunity to pass these lessons onto other people, whether they’re important enough to change lives or as simple as a recipe or knowledge of a niche product.

Examples From The First Three Weeks:

I wasn’t previously aware of the Diva Cup, an alternative female hygiene product. Now, via Adrienne, I know that “it works better, it’s cheaper, and it’s better for the environment.” I also now know how to make the perfect Bloody Mary thanks to Christopher, and Elsa has informed me of the reasons why the country of Albania may be the perfect holiday destination.



how listserv works

We all need to be inspired from time to time. None of us can always be on top our game ready to take on the world. Thankfully it often only requires a few rousing words of encouragement or an anecdote revealing courage in the face of adversity or someone overcoming unfair odds to flick the switch. The Listserve is the perfect opportunity to inspire others in this way.

Examples From The First Three Weeks:

Nicolas recounted his experience of turning his life around, reminding us that hitting rock bottom doesn’t mean it’s all over. Wissem spoke of the simple power of saying “Hello” and “Goodbye.” While Sam passed on some quotes designed to make us look at life from a different angle, to challenge the status quo. Ending with “Strive to be happy.”



listserv mailing list

The Listserve is the perfect opportunity to confess to something you have been hiding away or running from, perhaps for a long time. Or to instead just whisper a small secret that you have never told friends and family but feel comfortable telling strangers. With the option of remaining anonymous this can be an easy route to take for a little self-cleansing.

Examples From The First Three Weeks:

There has only been one example of this to date, with an unnamed sender revealing secrets as small as, “I like Justin Bieber’s new song… I don’t want to and it pains me to say it, but I think I do,” and, “I haven’t washed my hair for four days. Dry shampoo is one of my favorite inventions.” But the opportunity is there for someone to get something important off their chest, unburdening themselves forever.


You can sign up to The Listserve yourself now and add to the number of people hearing the thoughts of strangers. The ultimate goal is to have one million people all reading the same email from someone they will likely never meet or even hear from again.

While some of the emails people choose to send when it’s their turn to talk rather than listen will undoubtedly be banal or pointless, I firmly believe most people will choose their words wisely. After all this is the best offer to talk to an engaged audience you may ever receive.

What do you think of the idea behind The Listserve? If you’re already on the list what do you think of the emails sent so far? As always we’re keen to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Image Credits: photosteve101, Sean MacEntee, grilled cheese, Dagny Scott

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  1. dolly
    June 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Here's a place to vote and comment on the emails from TheListserve:

  2. Mark O'Neill
    May 19, 2012 at 8:16 am

    I joined a couple of months back. The best one was when a New York woman talked about her African Grey parrot called Bagel. I ended up reading the parrot's Tumblr blog and Twitter page!

    From what I saw, that parrot is now famous, thanks to the Listserve.

    I have no idea what I will say when it's my turn. No doubt I will find some soapbox to stand on.

    • Dave Parrack
      May 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Does a parrot getting famous count as a way in which The Listserve could be a force for good? ;)

      I have something in mind if I ever get a turn, but the odds are heavily stacked against us ever being chosen at this stage!

      • Mark O'Neill
        May 20, 2012 at 7:41 am

        No, obviously it doesn't count as a force for good, but it always blows my mind that, with the Internet, I can be sitting here in Germany reading all about the wacky antics of a parrot in New York, thousands of miles away.

        From what I gather, new people are chosen randomly. So the chances of you and I being chosen are just as good as any of the others.

        • Saikat Basu
          May 25, 2012 at 6:30 am

          Joined it an liking it so far. In fact, replied to a guy a couple of days back because he said that he was stuck on a "rock" and couldn't find his life's purpose.

          P.S: The "rock" is Hawaii.

        • Mark O'Neill
          May 25, 2012 at 6:10 pm

          Yeah I saw that one too. I've been struck by how many people have talked about how depressed they are with life, which is sad.

  3. muotechguy
    May 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    Well, I signed up because this sounds genuinely fascinating. Not sure if I'd ever have anything interesting to say, but perhaps if I do win it'll be an opportune moment to publish my life's memoirs. It stands at 31,000 words currently; it's mainly just so I don't forget stuff when I'm old and senile.

    • Dave Parrack
      May 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      I've enjoyed reading those sent so far. Some have made for fascinating reading. I wonder if there is a maximum word count, or if you could attach an eBook with your memoirs to the email.

      You mean you're not old and senile already? At 35 I'm already getting there.